A bolt turned in the side of Dominic’s neck. The time he’d served with the military had been hard. It was hard for every soldier, being under the constant threat of attack, being so far removed from reality, you didn’t know how you’d make it back. Vocalizing that meant exposing a weakness, however, and he didn’t do that. Stiff upper lip. Be the strong one. He’d been raised with that mentality, and he worried that breaking that code might make him seem less dependable. Just . . . less. But he had to set aside those fears, because Rosie was watching him expectantly and—
A movement on Rosie’s shoulder caught his attention.
“Shit, honey. Don’t move.”
Her face lost some color. “What is it?”
Knowing if he said the word “spider” she would freak the fuck out, Dominic reached out to slap the eight-legged creature off her shoulder, but it scuttled away, he cursed, and Rosie launched into the air like a torpedo, slapping at every inch of exposed skin on her body and shaking out her hair. “Oh my God. Is it still on me? Get it!”
“Honey girl,” he said, biting down on a smile. “You have to stand still.”
He gripped her by the shoulders and turned her around. “You probably knocked it off.”
“You’re just saying that,” she said miserably. “Oh my God. How big was it? Is it hairy?”
“You don’t want to know,” he said truthfully.
She screamed in her throat.
The spider reappeared on her arm, and Dominic smacked it off before she could become aware of it, watching as it hit the forest floor and disappeared beneath some leaves. “Gone. Got it.” He gave up on suppressing his laughter. “It can’t hurt you anymore.”
“You jerk.” Rosie threw herself into his arms, mouth pressed to his neck, her body shaking with mirth. “You enjoyed that.”
“I don’t like seeing you scared.” He closed her in his arms and breathed in the coconut scent of her hair. “But I’m not going to pretend I mind this.”
They melted against each other a little bit, Rosie’s hand curling in the material of his shirt before she pushed away, both of them breathing heavily. As they continued making the wind chime, Dominic could feel her watching him. And he knew she could feel his attention coming her way, too. Every peek of her belly when she reached up to tie a stick to a low-hanging branch was catalogued in his mind. Every lip bite. Every elegant angle of her neck.
His own skin burned from the evidence of her interest, and just as he’d done that morning in the gym, he put himself on display for her. Fuck it. He’d use what he had. Rolling up his sleeves, he got to work lighting the fire, building it to a cluster of gentle flames. Night had fallen by the time they finished building the campsite and they wandered toward each other, right to the center of it, as if pushed by an unseen force.
“Earlier, you said you wanted to talk about the present?” Dominic said, nudging her chin up. “Let’s do it.”
Rosie’s nipples peaked inside her shirt, accompanied by her shaky exhale. “Maybe I only said that because I was annoyed at you for bringing up our Twilight fight.” She paused. “It happened in the past, but it’s frustrating me in the present, so it’s fair game to discuss.”
“Good, talk about it. Get frustrated.”
“You brought it up to make a point. That we’re supposed to love each other through fights. Through all of it.”
Dominic leaned in and breathed against her mouth. “Never mind why I brought it up. Call me every name in the book. Just don’t act like we don’t know every last thing about each other.” His hand closed around the nape of her neck and the muscles turned to water, just like he’d expected. Just like always. “You know how to talk to me, Rosie. It . . .” Admitting a weakness was difficult, but he forced it out. “It fucked me up when you said you didn’t.”
“I’m sorry. It’s so much easier to talk when you’re talking back.”
“Okay. Lay it on me.” Dominic tightened his muscles, steeling himself for what was coming. “Tell me how hard it has been. How hard I’ve made it.”
“I don’t want to right now.” Hesitantly, she raised her hands and conformed her palms to his cheeks. “You’ve been so sweet today.”
“Please, Rosie. Get it all out so we can really start moving forward.”
“It’s been hard,” she said softly. So softly. “It’s like you left that final time . . . and never came back. I don’t have my best friend.”
“I’m here.” He backed them toward a tree, pressing her up against it, knowing she could feel the chaotic pounding in his chest . . . and letting her. Not being the impenetrable fortress for once. They inhaled and exhaled against each other’s mouth, his cock swelling with every tiny, feminine pant she let out against his lips. Christ, he would kill to give her one fucking orgasm. Just one. “Rosie.” He brushed their lips together. “Honey girl, I’m right here.”
She pulled him by the sleeves of his shirt. “Come closer,” she breathed.
“Ah, would you look at this masterpiece!”
Armie’s voice booming through the clearing was the equivalent of a brick wall slamming down between Rosie and Dominic. They jumped apart like guilty teenagers whose mothers had caught them making out in the family room. And something amazing happened. They both laughed. She fell into his chest and giggled—and hell, if Dominic didn’t feel seven feet tall in that moment. Ignoring the incessant throbbing in his pants, he wrapped an arm around Rosie’s shoulders and held her close.
“Busted,” he said against her temple.
She looked up, smiling. “Feels like old times.”
“Yeah,” he said gruffly. “It does.”
Rosie started to say more, but her jaw dropped at whatever was happening behind Dominic. He turned just in time to catch Armie ducking into the tent they’d erected, with not one but two women.
“Viva Team Vega!” called Armie as he zipped up the shelter, amid the squeals of his companions.
Rosie and Dominic were bursting at the seams as he hustled her back toward the parking lot, where they finally doubled over and gave in to tears of amusement.
“Did we just build a campsite so our therapist could have a threesome?” Dominic said.
“Officer, I swear, we were unwitting accomplices.”
Dominic’s laughter trailed off as he tucked a curl behind Rosie’s ear. “Here’s to not rejecting the crazy, huh?”
She regarded him in thoughtful silence. “Yeah.”
Sending his wife to Bethany’s that night knowing he wouldn’t see her until their next therapy session was torture, but he couldn’t help but hope they’d made some progress. Dammit, he would take it.
And someday soon, he would take his wife back.
A lot of people can throw together a decent meal,” Rosie said, giving her friends a stern look across Georgie’s dining room table. “But food should be about an experience. A journey.”
In front of Rosie sat three covered dishes, and she didn’t miss the ravenous looks Bethany and Georgie kept sending them. She’d asked them to refrain from eating today so they could participate in her first official taste test. It appeared they’d complied. And okay, she was being a little cruel making them wait to dig in, but she wanted to savor the moment. After building the campsite with Dominic yesterday, Rosie felt . . . exhilarated. Excited. New.
Ever since she’d reopened herself to the possibility of being a restaurant owner, she’d been struggling with imposter syndrome. Who did she think she was? Gordon Ramsay owned a restaurant. Did she think she was Gordon Ramsay? He might be a reality television star, too, but they would both be restaurant owners. How could she even put herself in the same category?
But while she cooked asado on Georgie’s backyard barbeque, she hadn’t felt like an imposter at all. Maybe that’s why she was confident enough to revel in the suspense. Just a little longer.
Georgie propped her chin on the table and sniffed one of the covered plates. “You vicious woman. You’re milking this.”
“We never knew you were a sadist,” Bethany commented, studying her nails.
Rosie hid her smile. “I just want you to really focus on how the food makes you feel, as opposed to what your mouth is telling you. It’s going to taste good. That’s a given. But tell me where the flavors transport you. That’s what I’m after.”
Rosie whipped the napkin off the first plate with a flourish, outright giggling when both of her friends groaned in pleasure, leaning forward to inhale the steam coming off the meat. “Don’t dig in yet. I’m going to help you craft the perfect bite.”
Bethany picked up a fork and mimed jabbing it into her eye. “Rosie, you’re evil.”
“You’ll take that back in a minute.” Rosie took the napkin off the next dish. “This is an ensalada criolla. Tomato, lettuce, onion. Oil and white wine vinegar dressing. It’s going to help counter the savory flavors of the meat. And . . .” She uncovered the final dish. “The pièce de résistance. My mother’s chimichurri.”